The Orlando Magic have struggled ever since the mid-December night when Glen Davis dislocated his left shoulder. The team lost 23 of its next 26 games.
But in few, if any, of those losses could you say that the Magic totally lacked focus or failed to display much effort.
The team crossed that dangerous threshold Wednesday night in its last game before the All-Star break. Perhaps Magic players felt the sting of Hedo Turkoglu's 20-game suspension for testing positive for an anabolic steroid. Or maybe the players just looked forward too much to having the next several days off.
Whatever the reason, they suffered a 108-76 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Amway Center.
"We were down, definitely down," J.J. Redick said. "Nothing more to say. We got punked."
Even Jacque Vaughn, the Magic's perpetually positive coach, acknowledged that the team didn't play with the focus it needed.
"I've seen it before: the game before the break," he said. "It boils down to which team is going to have the right mental approach, and that team will give themselves a chance to win, and this is not anything that I didn't say to the guys in the locker room.
"At the end of the day, as simple as it can be, you have to be ready to compete every night and especially with the remaining games that we have. We're going to play a lot of playoff teams jockeying for position, and our approach, our mental approach, has to be sharp going into every game."
The Hawks (29-22), fueled by their frontcourt tandem of Josh Smith and Al Horford, dominated the Magic (15-37), plain and simple.
Smith finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Horford added 26 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
"These are the types of games that can get away from you, and we wanted to come out and set the tone," Horford said. "We were able to do that, and I wanted to be a part of that and make sure I did it for the team."
Horford is 6 feet 10, while Smith is 6 feet 9. They are fast, strong and athletic, and those traits have posed a problem for Orlando the last two seasons.
"They're a big load," said Magic center Nik Vucevic. "They play well together. They're hard to guard and good players. They've been in the league for a while now, so it's a tough matchup to play against."
The Hawks now have won nine consecutive regular-season games over the Magic.
In the latest loss Wednesday night, the Magic held a 15-14 lead with 3:12 remaining in the first quarter, but the Hawks finished the half on a 43-21 run.
It was such a blowout that no Magic starter played more than 28 minutes.
Jameer Nelson and Andrew Nicholson, who had 10 points apiece, were the only Magic players to finish in double figures.
Was effort the problem? Or was it a focus issue?
"Probably a little bit of both," Nelson answered. "Actually, a lot of both. We started off the game pretty good, and they turned it up and we couldn't get a rebound for a while there, couldn't get a stop. We didn't get good shots on the other end. They just outplayed us in every aspect of the game tonight."
Some fans within the announced crowd of 17,649 booed midway through the third quarter when rookie Maurice Harkless took a 20-foot jumper from the left baseline and the shot hit the side of the backboard.
The Hawks grabbed the rebound, sprinted down the court and Smith unleashed a dunk off an alley-oop pass from Jeff Teague. The play elicited oohs and aahs.
It summed up the night.
And, now, the Magic have to hope the second half of their season won't be more of the same.Copyright © 2015, CT Now